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The following appeared in today's Times. Letters should be sent to email@example.com and should include an address and daytime telephone number. August 23 1999 MIDDLE EAST Britain's bill for pounding Saddam is £4.5m a month, Michael Evans and James Bone in New York report on diplomatic gains by Iraq Cost of forgotten war mounts IT IS a forgotten war, a daily battle between the Iraqis and the American-British alliance that is taking its toll after more than 34 weeks of deadly confrontation. Ever since Operation Desert Fox in December last year, when the United States and Britain bombed Iraq after Baghdad expelled the United Nations arms inspectors, President Hussein has been seeking revenge. During the past eight months, RAF and US aircraft operating combat patrols in the northern and southern no-fly zones have faced more than 300 "direct threats", either from surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery or from being illuminated by Iraqi radars - the first warning of an attack. There have also been 200 infringements of the no-fly zones by Iraqi aircraft. In response, on nearly 100 days out of the 240 or so since Desert Fox, British and American aircraft have retaliated with air-to-ground and air-to-air missile attacks. US reports state that American and British aircraft have fired more than 1,000 missiles at about 360 Iraqi military targets in the past eight months. Iraq's score against coalition aircraft remains at zero; largely because the planes fly at about 15,000ft and have time to evade missiles. An Iraqi boy salvages items from a home wrecked by a US airstrike in the town of Jesan last week. Criticism of UN sanctions has focused on their effects on children Photograph: JASSIM MOHAMMED/AP The perception that Iraqi radar sites and missile bases have been relentlessly pounded has led to accusations that the United States and Britain are conducting a secret war against the Iraqis. But this claim is firmly rejected by London and Washington, which point out that the Western media's attention has been focused elsewhere, principally Kosovo. "Everything we have done has been reportable but the media has shown little interest," one British official said. The cost of keeping Iraq in check is enormous. Denied the opportunity of monitoring Saddam's weapons programmes on the ground with UN inspections, the US and Britain have had to retain a formidable military presence in the region. The US has more than 200 aircraft, 19 warships - including an aircraft carrier - and 22,000 personnel engaged in the operation, costing an estimated $1 billion a year. Britain has 12 Tornado GR1s in Kuwait, six Tornado F3 air defence aircraft in Saudi Arabia, two VC10 tankers in Bahrain, four Jaguars and two VC10s at Incirlik in Turkey, one warship, accompanied by a supply vessel, in the Gulf, and a total of 1,400 personnel. The cost is running at about £4.5 million a month, over and above the normal bill for having military personnel on operational duty. Propaganda has always been one of Saddam's most notable talents and he has tried, with some success, to present to the world a picture of a country suffering an unjust war from the air, as well as a crippling sanctions regime that he claims has led to the death of hundreds of babies. This claim appeared to be given credence with the publication last week of a Unicef report which revealed that child mortality in Iraq had more than doubled in the nine years since United Nations' sanctions were imposed after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Yet last Monday Kuwaiti coastguards seized a vessel leaving an Iraqi port loaded with 250 tonnes of baby products inside boxes stamped with the seal of the Baghdad Government, providing evidence that vital humanitarian exports to Iraq, authorised under the UN sanctions regime, were being resold. There is no end in sight to the air war. However, despite a robust military stance in the region, Britain has been negotiating behind the scenes to try to break the deadlock in international policy on Iraq. Working with the Dutch, Britain has presented detailed proposals to the United Nations Security Council for a new weapons monitoring system, linked to a softening of the sanctions regime. By offering major concessions, the British plan has attracted the backing of 11 members of the 15-nation council - including the tentative support of the US. But Russia, China, France and Malaysia are still holding out for an immediate suspension of the trade embargo. The British proposal demonstrates just how much ground Iraq has gained diplomatically in recent months. Where once Britain insisted that Iraq would not be rewarded for its policy of non-cooperation, the Government is now dangling carrots for Iraq to let UN weapons experts back into the country. According to the British plan, Iraq would immediately be allowed to sell as much oil as it likes under the existing "oil-for-food" plan. If Iraq co-operated for 120 days, it would be allowed to spend revenues from the "oil-for-food" scheme to upgrade its oil industry. After a further 120 days of co-operation, the oil embargo would be suspended completely for four months at a time, enabling Iraq to spend its oil revenues freely, subject to import controls. Bowing to widespread criticism of the UN arms inspectorate, Britain is also proposing the creation of a body to take over from the UN Special Commission (Unscom). Iraq, however, remains adamantly opposed to the new inspection system proposed by Britain, and continues to try to muster international support by emphasising the hardships of sanctions. -- ------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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